/ 25 September 2007

‘Donkey economics’ damaging Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has suffered an embarrassing blow to his prestige after his own party attacked him for adopting a jocular tone towards inflation at a time of rampant price rises.

The Islamic Revolution Devotees Society — a fundamentalist grouping of revolutionary veterans co-founded by Ahmadinejad — has added its voice to a rising chorus of economic discontent by warning the president that spiralling living costs are hurting the poor and undermining his stated goal of social justice.

The society says the government is to blame because it embarked on extravagant projects while failing to control the money supply.

“Unrestrained inflation increases the pressure on the weak and leads to the poor becoming poorer as owners of non-monetary assets get richer,” it says in an economic report. “The result is counter to the goals, plans and slogans of Dr Ahmadinejad’s government.”

The report also accuses Ahmadinejad and other officials of refusing to acknowledge the problem and of making light of it with inappropriate jokes.

It says: “Sometimes some high-ranking government officials deny the growth of prices and deal with them through making jokes. To deny the current inflation or ignoring it through jokes is totally unacceptable.”

Ahmadinejad has frequently dismissed complaints about rising prices as the invention of hostile media and blamed “secret networks” for rising house prices.

This year he responded to MPs’ protests over the rising price of tomatoes by urging them to visit his local greengrocer in Narmak in east Tehran. He also answered recent criticism of his policies by saying he took advice from his local butcher. “There is an honourable butcher in our neighbourhood who knows all the economic problems of the people. I get my economic information from him,” he said.

The latest report implicitly criticises his contemptuous view of economics by describing it as a “specialised science” and says Iran’s inflationary problems cannot be solved by “ad hoc decisions”. That may partly refer to one of Ahmadinejad’s most controversial recent moves in which he ordered banks to cut interest rates to 12% — below inflation, which is estimated at between 20% and 30%.

Ahmadinejad is on record as saying, “I pray to God I never know about economics”. That echoes a comment attributed to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, who is alleged to have said that “economics is for donkeys”. — Â